Fire Prevention Week 2013 begins Sunday and fire departments should be preparing to get out in the public and take advantage of the attention the longest-running public health observance on record will bring you; at the very least it is an opportunity for good public relations and to place your department on the map. Sadly, it's an opportunity constantly wasted by the fire service every year, and every year the fate of citizens in our communities are sealed as we continually miss the opportunity to save lives.
It was written, although I could never find the author: “Never underestimate the power of the local fire department to influence change within the community.” I have found this one of the most factual and meaningful statements of any I have ever heard about the fire service and about being a firefighter. Just because of who we are we can make a difference and this Fire Prevention Week is your time.
This call goes out to you, individual firefighter. Don’t wait for your company officer to initiate it (sadly), or your department to take the lead. For that one week, I challenge you to make an effort to reach out to the public; whether at a scheduled community event, a station tour, your children’s school, or a simple visit to the supermarket to pick up the station’s dinner ingredients; stop looking at the floor or standing in the shadows quietly. You have the badge of public trust! You have instant admiration and the attention of the public who trusts you with their family and lives. Start shaking hands and having conversations and you will quickly learn that the difference you can make will last more than this one week.
I have contended that a firefighter who is actively involved in fire prevention will save more lives in a year then most firefighters will in a career. Again, I am not referring to being active in fire prevention by going out and conducting “official” fire prevention activities, although that helps, but taking the fire prevention responsibility to heart and taking advantage of every opportunity to talk to the citizens you protect about how to stay safe – a fundamental responsibility of the fire service I should think. By getting out of the stations and into the public, becoming known to your citizens, and developing rapport, a difference can be made and lives saved. Not just by those large-scale public relations events, but by simply saying, “Hey, good afternoon, do you have a smoke detector?”
Don’t think it works? Don’t think that lives can be saved through prevention – that it is a waste of time? Here are just some factual examples of lives saved by firefighters and fire departments who were active in their community:
Life Saved – A frail, older female adult of 100 pounds had routine blood pressure screenings with an involved firefighter over the previous few months in which her pressures were consistently in the normal range. However, during one screening the individual firefighter, who had rapport with this older female, alarmingly discovered her blood pressure to be 230/140.
Because of the established rapport and familiarity between the firefighter and the female, she willingly admitted that the doctor had placed her on new medications and that she was confused and just stopped taking them, but that she felt fine. Luckily, she trusted the firefighter enough to allow him to place a call to her son and inform him of what was discovered. The son immediately took his mother to her physician, and with her now being compliant with her medications, her subsequent pressures during future screenings returned to normal.
Life saved – During monthly blood pressure screenings, an older female adult’s blood pressures were routinely hypertensive; however, because she “felt fine” she refused to see her physician. As rapport and trust developed between the firefighter and the female, along with her friends who also attended the event, the female was “pressured” to see a doctor. Weeks later, that female thanked the fire department because upon seeing her doctor it was discovered that she had a developing heart condition, which was caught early and now being treated.